Monthly Archives: February 2020

The Scientist and the Spy by Mara Hvistendahl

The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial EspionageThe Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage by Mara Hvistendahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a retired FBI agent who worked both foreign counterintelligence against China and Economic Espionage cases, I found this book fascinating. I did not know of this particular case before reading the book, and have no preconceived notions about the case itself. The prose flows smoothly here with the author’s engaging style. Her research is good but I got the impression there was a slight pro-China or at least pro-Chinese individuals leaning in her writing, which is only natural for someone who spent years there and no doubt has many friendships and deep roots there.

Investigating and prosecuting economic espionage cases is a very complex business and much of the investigator’s job cannot be brought out or appreciated in a book of this nature. Still, I think the author does a good job of discussing how victim companies are in a bind when the FBI or any law enforcement becomes involved and almost adversarial to the government in such cases. I wish she had spent a little more time on that. The criminal prosecution complicates their business, often threatening to reveal their trade secrets in court. If civil litigation is in process, which it usually is, the defense is handed the argument that the victim company is using the government as their agent or their investigator. The argument goes that the government shouldn’t put its finger on the scales of what is essentially a business dispute. My view is that a theft is a theft whether the victim is Molly’s Hair Salon or Megacorp and law enforcement should investigate crimes and prosecute thieves. A crime victim should be allowed to cooperate with law enforcement without being punished for it.

One glaring omission for those of us in the field is the issue of adequate protection. In order to have a crime under the EEA of 1996, whether trade secret theft or economic espionage, it is necessary to prove that the trade secret was in fact a secret, i.e. that it was sufficiently well-protected. The defense will always claim that it wasn’t really a secret, or not well-protected enough to be considered secret. In effect the argument becomes, “if my client was able to steal it, then it must not be a trade secret and therefore not a crime.” The crime, in effect, doesn’t ever exist. I consider the argument to be specious. The author confuses this issue with the technological value of the thing stolen. A trade secret doesn’t have to be technology at all. In fact, the most valuable trade secret in most companies is a Rolodex with names of customers or suppliers. It can be internal pay records and personnel performance reviews. It seems to me that the issue of protections afforded (or not) to the corn seed lines was, or should have been, a major issue in this case, yet it was little discussed.

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Cold Case – new Cliff Knowles Mystery!

I’ve posted on Facebook sites and sent out notices to my fan mailing list, but not here yet. Until now. My latest Cliff Knowles novel (#10), Cold Case, is now available on Amazon both as Kindle and paperback. It’s also available for free on my Cliff Knowles website as a PDF. Here’s the scoop:

Cliff is intrigued by a geocache description about a murder site in posh Los Altos Hills dating back eighteen years. When the victim’s granddaughter approaches Cliff and Maeva to find the killer, they accept. Soon they are drawn into the esoteric world of DNA and genealogy to try to track down “Cole Case,” the killer. Chasing a murderer can be a dangerous business and this time is no exception, but Cliff can always find time to pick up a geocache or two.

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley (Ripley, #1)The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A recent news item about the author, whose name I’d heard or read often, spurred me to read one of her books, namely this one, her first big hit. It’s imaginative and well-written, but a bit creepy, too. Tom Ripley is a penniless but ambitious young man in 1950’s New York. He’s always on the hustle. He works when he has to, but prefers to mooch and schmooze his way through life. He has no woman in his life beyond a domineering aunt who considers him a “sissy,” a common euphemism for gay in those days, at least compared to the less euphemistic terms like fairy and pervert that also appear in the book, mostly from Tom. Tom’s sexual preference is never fully explored and we don’t know what it may be, but he latches onto wealthy Dickie Greenleaf and insinuates himself into Dickie’s life while at the same time trying to edge out Marge, Dickie’s would-be girlfriend. All three are in a small town in Italy where Dickie has retreated to become a painter and Marge a novelist. Any more elucidation would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say the story is a fascinating psychological study of sociopathic Tom Ripley.

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Name trends 2015-2018

There are plenty of sites that tell you the most popular baby names for the current (or last) year. Here’s a good one for 2019, if that’s what you want . What interests me is identifying which names are the most trendy, i.e. rapidly gaining or falling in popularity. You may want to get in on the trend, or avoid a name that is on the downward slide. I used Social Security Administration data for 2015 and 2018, the most recent year they’ve released as of this writing, and compared the top 100 names for both and girls in 2015 to see where they ranked in 2018. Here are the results.

Biggest losers for girls:

NAME 2015 Rank 2018 Rank Drop
Alexis 87 179 92
Alexa 32 90 58
Kylie 66 124 58
Alyssa 93 150 57
Brianna 82 132 50
Annabelle 92 141 49
Taylor 77 121 44
Ashley 85 129 44
Arianna 56 95 39
Kaylee 61 97 36
Sadie 52 87 35
Mackenzie 73 106 33
Aubree 79 110 31
Faith 91 122 31
Allison 39 69 30
Peyton 72 101 29
Katherine 84 112 28
Alexandra 100 125 25
Melanie 81 105 24

Biggest gainers for girls:

NAME 2015 Rank 2018 Rank Gain
Mila 53 14 39
Aurora 78 44 34
Eleanor 60 32 28
Bella 74 48 26
Camila 42 18 24
Hazel 63 42 21
Gianna 96 80 16
Alice 86 71 15
Cora 88 73 15
Stella 51 38 13
Quinn 97 84 13
Naomi 76 64 12
Nora 41 30 11
Aria 29 19 10
Ellie 47 37 10
Ruby 83 74 9
Penelope 34 26 8
Genesis 65 57 8
Riley 35 28 7
Violet 50 43 7
Caroline 62 55 7
Maya 68 61 7

Biggest losers for boys:

Name 2015 rank 2018 rank Drop
Blake 96 158 62
Kevin 79 125 46
Gavin 70 111 41
Brandon 83 124 41
Chase 74 112 38
Tyler 81 119 38
Ryder 98 131 33
Bentley 93 121 28
Parker 72 96 24
Brayden 61 84 23
Jordan 60 82 22
Zachary 88 109 21
Evan 67 86 19
Nathaniel 97 116 19
Ayden 87 104 17
Hunter 41 56 15
Landon 46 61 15
Jonathan 48 63 15
Jace 75 90 15

And gainers for boys:

Name 2015 rank 2018 rank Gain
Theodore 99 44 55
Mateo 85 37 48
Leo 91 50 41
Asher 82 47 35
Ezra 92 59 33
Elias 100 67 33
Lincoln 66 40 26
Carson 89 70 19
Sebastian 35 18 17
Grayson 47 32 15
Oliver 19 5 14
Henry 29 16 13
Jack 40 28 12
Easton 78 66 12
Owen 36 25 11
Hudson 65 54 11


Building a Resilient Tomorrow by Alice C. Hill and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz

Building a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate DisruptionBuilding a Resilient Tomorrow: How to Prepare for the Coming Climate Disruption by Alice C. Hill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the title suggests, this book concentrates on resilience, which in this context means resilience against the consequences of climate change. The authors who are experts in the field, describe various ways organizations and governmental entities can provide that resilience. They address such issues as building on or near shorelines or in flood plains, modifying laws to shift liability for climate disasters to incentivize parties to build in more resilient ways, or to relocate, preparing the health care system better to respond to floods, hurricanes, investing in better climate and disease modeling, and so forth. Most of their suggestions are sensible and useful.

Some of the better ones are: to encourage architecture schools to include climate risk and methods to ameliorate it in its curriculum; government subsidies to insurance companies faced with catastrophic losses should be phased out so that insurance companies weigh the true risks of climate disasters better and raise rates to incentivize developers and homebuyers to make better choices; local community leaders should develop and implement heat emergency plans and centers. Some are little more than wishful thinking or meaningless technobabble, like “governments should apply insights to advance climate resilience” or “business leaders should lead a process to develop a protocol that enables companies to better understand climate risks.”

The book is aimed entirely at governments at all levels and people in a position to influence policy on a large scale such as industry leaders. It is an advocacy piece. There is little here for the average reader. I had hoped that after reading it I would be more prepared personally for coming climate-related risks, but I was disappointed in that respect.

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N-grams in Iowa

I decided to check out Google’s N-gram predictive stories for the five leading Democratic candidates in the Iowa caucuses. If you need an explanation of how this works, see my earlier post here.

Joe went to the door and opened it wide to let in more light.

Elizabeth started to say something but could not find it.

Bernie went to see the King in his beauty.

Pete was a good man and a great warrior.

Amy had been so kind to me that I had not been able to find any other way.